Letter To The Editor: Avoiding Some Painful Budget Cuts By Delaying Pension Pay Down

Photo: Belmont should not continue to pursue a pension pay down plan. (credit: Pixabay)

Letter to the editor:

It looks like the defeat of the override will lead to the loss of several school teachers, at least one fire fighter and police officer, and several DPW employees, as well as cuts to many important services for seniors and others. I’m guessing that even those who opposed the override will consider this prospect to be unfortunate. 

With this in mind, it is absolutely critical that we identify any moves we can make to free up money in the budget. While it would be nice to do so, we can no longer afford to achieve 100 percent funding status on our pension liability eight years before we have to. According to an October 2020 report by the Segal Group, we are currently spending almost $9 million a year to reduce our pension liability and will boost this expenditure by about 4.5 percent annually until it hits $13 million in 2031 to eliminate the liability by 2032. If, as we are free to do under the applicable state law, we adjusted our full funding target date to 2040, we could free up at least several hundred thousand, if not more than $1 million, a year. This adjustment would enable us to avoid some painful budget cuts, lower our structural deficit and the size of the next override while preserving our commitment to provide the pensions we promised to our employees.  

If you think that Belmont should not continue to pursue a pension pay down plan aimed at achieving full funded status several years ahead of when it is legally required, please ask the Select Board, the School Committee, and the Town Administrator to reach out to the Retirement Board, which determines the pension funding schedule, and request that it extend the full funding target date to 2040.

Dan Barry, Town Meeting Member, Precinct 1, Goden Street

Letter To The Editor: Designate At Least One Day To Honor Indigenous Peoples

To the editor:

In third grade, my Winn Brook class went on a field trip to Plymouth Plantation. Furious that I got separated from my best friend, I stomped through the English village where costumed colonists wished us a “Good morrow.” At the Wampanoag Homesite, we watched Indigenous women dressed in deerskins cooking next to a bark-covered wetu (house). Exhausted, I breathed in the warm smokey air, recalling my preschool Thanksgiving crafts: the black Pilgrim hat and the colorful turkey shaped like my little hand. My teacher taught us that the Native people had saved the Pilgrims from starvation and celebrated the first Thanksgiving together.  

Four years later, I attended the first of many powwows – a large gathering of Indigenous people dancing, singing, and celebrating traditions – organized by the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness. At Claudia Fox Tree’s workshops, my re-education about American history began. I learned about famous Indigenous people and contemporary issues like the struggle against denigrating Native mascots. As I watched Aquayah Peters in her vibrant jingle dress and the Edmond brothers’ joyful dance, I understood that the Wampanoags at Plymouth were not actors in historic costumes or relics of the past. They were living on their own homelands, preserving their way of life. 

For me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about the past and the present. It is an opportunity to acknowledge that Belmont is located in the homelands of the Massachusett and the Pawtucket. Reminders of Indigenous presence are everywhere: place names like Pequossette Park on Trapelo Road, Native artifacts discovered near School and Grove Streets, and a burial mound on land bordering Pleasant Street. Indigenous narratives were mainly absent from my Belmont education. On my own, I read about the devastating violence of colonial history like the Pequot massacre of 1637 celebrated at the first officially proclaimed Thanksgiving, and ongoing harms to Indigenous communities. The poet Mary Ruefle observes: “[L]istening is a kind of knowledge, or as close as one can come.” The students of Belmont deserve to hear truthful historical narratives.

We can also celebrate the knowledge of Indigenous peoples who have lived in harmony with the natural world for centuries and are at the forefront of climate justice. Belmont readers can discuss books by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Terese Marie Mailhot, and Tommy Orange. We can choose to honor Indigenous people on at least one designated day.

Natalia Freeze, Leicester Road

Letter To The Editor: Belmont Educators Disagree With Return To In-Person Learning

Photo:

To the editor:

The members of the Belmont Education Association have spent the past six months balancing the needs of our students- their health and safety needs, their academic needs and their social and emotional needs- against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic

On Oct. 7, the BEA was  made aware of numerous inconsistencies, errors, and omissions in the report completed by BALA, the contractor hired by the school district to assess air exchanges in school buildings.  

Based on the failings of the report, the BEA adamantly disagrees with the district’s decision to enter Phase 2, and educators feel obligated to share our concerns with parents.

BALA’s direct measurements show that most classrooms do not have sufficient air exchange (ACH 5) in line with the Harvard University recommended standard that Belmont would need to meet. Assumptions that open windows and air purifiers could raise classroom air exchange to an acceptable level may, in the end, prove correct. However, BALA’s current report has numerous instances which call into question the validity of the report. For example, multiple interior rooms, which have no windows are listed as having substantial improvements once windows are taken into account. 

Furthermore, there are spaces across the district where no data has been provided at all and are omitted from the report and there are other spaces that are mislabeled. The district is working to rectify this situation, and BALA returned to Belmont this week to reassess spaces to make corrections to their report.

Our community made a commitment not to send students into the buildings until spaces used by students and staff were safe. On Wednesday, the BEA requested that the district delay the start of Phase 2 until the community has  a complete report. The Belmont Public Schools  made the determination that schools were safe and began Phase 2 on Thursday. The short notice and concern for the social-emotional well-being of our students forced us to make a difficult decision to return to our classrooms without assurances that they are safe.

John Sullivan

President, Belmont Education Association

Letter To The Editor: Parents Appreciate The Work Of Teachers In Age Of Pandemic

Photo: Thanks

Dear teachers, administrators, and staff of the Belmont Public Schools:

There has been a lot of talk and hand-wringing about the various plans for education in this age of pandemic. We would like to acknowledge that you are caught in the crossfire and that you are nevertheless performing an exceptional service in unprecedented times.

Many of us chose to live in Belmont because of its schools. Over the years, we have been impressed by the professionalism, dedication, and perseverance that you demonstrate every day. The move to remote schooling has also shown us that you have great resilience and
flexibility. We have been enjoying hearing our kids engaged during this time at home thanks to your efforts.

Many of us have chosen to keep our children remote during Phase 2 to help protect their health and yours. This choice was difficult and each family approached it differently, but whatever our decisions on the matter it is no reflection of our confidence in you. Some of us are transitioning to hybrid, but appreciate this remote time as a rewarding experience for our kids. This is a time of learning for all of us, thanks to our amazing teachers.

We recognize that many of you are struggling with the same decisions regarding your own health and safety. We know that these are very difficult choices to make, and we support your decisions. We hope that the schools will be able to make appropriate accommodations where needed.

We would like you to know that parents support and appreciate you and your work. We are glad to have our children in your care. We look forward to the day that the schools can safely open to all children, but we are very much aware that this will not happen soon. Until then please know that we feel you are doing an admirable job and that our children’s needs are being met.

Charles and Patsy Bandes, Butler grades K and 2
Amy & Dan Kirsch, Winn Brook grade 4 and Belmont High grade 9
Amy Frasco, two students, Wellington
Angela & Elshad Kasumov, Wellington grade 1
Diane & David Gold, Burbank Kindergarten
Claus and Barbara Becker Belmont HS and Butler grade 3
Kim and Chris Foster, Burbank grade 4 and Chenery, grade 6
Katy and Rob Yang, Winn Brook grade 1
Vikram and Parul Khemka, Winn Brook grade 1 and grade 4
Kimberly Blinn
Aaron Pikcilingis & Laura Burnes, Wellington grade 3 and Chenery grade 6
Lisa and Mark Murakami, grades 2 and 4 Burbank
Carolyn Stella, Belmont HS parent

Letter To The Editor: Hate Towards Police Is Counterproductive To Encouraging Change – BAR

Photo: Belmont Against Racism

Letter to the Editor:

Belmont Against Racism (BAR) condemns the verbal abuse of Belmont Police officers by members of the public as reported in the Belmontian on September 14. http://belmontonian.com/featured/belmont-police-officers-increasingly-targeted-with-verbal-abuse-from-the-public/ As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Hate begets hate, violence begets violence…”

We support the Belmont Police Department and have confidence in the leadership under Chief James MacIsaac, who has embraced the 21st Century Policing Principles and police reforms. The Department’s policies had already aligned with the 8 Can’t Wait https://8cantwait.org/  policies encouraged in the wake of George Floyd’s killing In addition, the BPD has partnered with Communities for Restorative Justice to provide, when parties agree, a restorative justice alternative to court proceedings. We are not Kenosha, or Minneapolis, or Louisville. The BPD has been engaged in conversations with BAR over the past decade and regularly attend the Human Rights Commission meetings. We have all learned from these conversations and have established respect for one another. We appreciate that service that the Department provides for Belmont and are saddened to learn of the negative treatment that the Belmont officers have faced. 

To be clear, BAR strongly condemns police brutality as we have witnessed in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others, and we believe officers who commit murder should be swiftly brought to justice. We believe Black lives matter. We support police reform and are hopeful that the Massachusetts legislature will soon send the police reform bill to the governor to be signed.  

But wanting reform is never equal to hating an individual or assuming they oppose reforms. There is no reason for hateful treatment of any individual and this behavior is counterproductive to encouraging change. Hate speech will do nothing to encourage institutional change in housing, health, education, and the environment. Hate speech will not encourage any redirection of investments into alternative community resources, or further the cause of any demands for police reform. 

There should be no place for racism in Belmont and there should be no place for hate either. We urge respectful treatment of police officers in our community as we work together to make Belmont a welcoming community for all. 

Kathryn Bonfiglio

President and the Board of Belmont Against Racism

Letter To The Editor: School Re-Opening Less Than Ideal But Pandemic Limits What Can Be Done

Photo: Return to learning has been less than ideal

Dear Belmont Parents and Community:

As a member of the School Committee, I’m fully aware that many parents are deeply unhappy with the fall reopening plans for our schools. Based on the volume of emails and phone calls, it’s also clear that many people do not think the School Committee is listening. I can assure you that we are.

Many parents want a return to in-person learning as quickly as possible. Rightly, they point to good health metrics and the probability that we could begin using many classrooms in hybrid with safety. Yes, the metrics are good and we probably can begin using many classrooms but it will be a few more weeks before we do that.

I have been a proponent of a quicker move to hybrid reopening for Belmont’s schools. Not everyone agrees on the timetable, and I understand that. It’s not an easy thing to gamble with people’s health, but that’s essentially what we do when we proceed to reopen schools without due caution during a pandemic. Between myself, other members of the School Committee, the Superintendent, and our educators, there are some differences of opinion about what “due caution” means. In every negotiation, there are differences of opinion. When decision making depends on satisfying many different and very reasonable concerns about health and safety, some flexibility is needed. At the end of the day, no one wants to be responsible for opening in a way that leads to anyone getting sick, being hospitalized, or even dying.

We’ve just gotten summary feedback from our consulting engineers who have been evaluating our air handling systems in the school buildings. We’ll get the full reports in days. So far things look pretty good, as long as we plan to open windows in our classrooms or use air purification equipment that we’ve bought. But we’ll be proceeding to in-person learning in our school buildings in a deliberate and orderly manner only after the consultant reports have been received, fully digested, and responded to in a way that mitigates any problems with space that needs to be used. It would be unwise to do otherwise. Because the school buildings are not ready, there has been no other option – to be clear, absolutely no other way to proceed – but to begin the school year in remote mode. We’ll get the schools opened for in-person learning, but it just will take a little more time. 

Apart from getting back to in-person learning, we are getting lots of feedback about the remote school plan, which has been adopted by the School Committee, as well as the hybrid plan, which is still under discussion. Not everyone is happy with the remote schedules, including school start times, lunch breaks, and time between classes. It is a complicated negotiation to build out these schedules, and not all needs can be satisfied. Similarly, to try to undertake school in a hybrid fashion AND provide remote-only for those parents needing that option for their children necessarily means that there will be more asynchronous learning (e.g., taped lessons, students working on their own, etc.). The school district does not have enough resources to do much better than this. 

It is deeply unfortunate that our children will continue to experience school in a less than ideal way this school year. I know that our school administrators and educators – and every member of the School Committee – is deeply regretful for this. We all recognize that this isn’t the way school should be done. But we also know that there are limits to what can be done during a pandemic with the kinds of resources that we have. Everyone, too, is committed to making this the best experience possible for your children.

I know that parents will continue to be concerned about our schools and I hope that you’ll continue to share your concerns with me and other members of the School Committee. At the same time, I hope that we’ll have your patience as we work to change what we can AND your understanding in realizing that there will be limits to what can be done for your children with the resource constraints that our schools operate under.

Best,

Mike Crowley

Member, Belmont School Committee

Letter To The Editor: Rash Remarks Due To A World Turned Upside Down

Photo: Belmont public school

To the editor:

I am a member of the Belmont Warrant Committee, a long time Town Meeting member and parent of three children who have been educated in the Belmont School system, two of whom have graduated in recent years.

Last week at the Committee’s first meeting since the Coronavirus emergency, I made some rash statements regarding the teachers in the Belmont Schools that I would like to apologize for.

I expressed my frustration with the lack of speed that the Schools have taken to set up learning structures and recommendations for students, based on my own students’ experience thus far. I should not have expressed these frustrations in a way that maligned Belmont teachers or implied that teachers were not spending time planning for online teaching and learning.

I appreciate that our teachers are dedicated to our students. I apologize for these comments. I am from a family of teachers. And, as people who know me are keenly aware, I have been a long time supporter and advocate for the Belmont Schools and their appropriate funding during my time as a Warrant Committee member and as a parent volunteer.

My family, like everyone else’s, has been turned upside-down by this pandemic; one of my daughters is losing her final semester at college and her graduation, and my spouse is working in a hospital ICU. Our family had a particularly rocky day on the day of the Warrant Committee meeting – no excuse for my comments, but I wanted to provide that context.

I will be more constructive in my expressions in the future.

Thank you, and stay well during this time of crisis.

Chris Doyle, Warrant Committee

Letter To The Editor: Joint Endorsement For Jessie

Photo: Jessie Bennett at the Belmont League of Women Voters’ debate

To the Editor: 

Jessie Bennett is the selectman candidate we should vote for.  She is fiscally responsible and an enthusiastic civic leader. Jessie Bennett is the candidate who understands the needs of our town because she mingles with the citizens and listens to differing points of view.

Jessie steps out publicly to address problems. She led the fight to make walking to the Burbank School safer. She has joined the Transportation Advisory Committee and the High School Traffic Working Group in order to make sure that our new high school does not overwhelm the surrounding neighborhoods.

When building a new high school was on the horizon, Jessie jumped in to help with the project. She not only worked to pass the debt exclusion, but she has also been a presence at the Building Committee Meetings to participate in the discussions.

Jessie doesn’t come into the process in the middle of deliberations, she is there from the start.

Experience is valuable but what kind of experience do we need? Jessie has had experience in the world of work, from banking to marketing and communications as well as working in the non-profit sector. Her kind of experience leads to good decision making for all the citizens of Belmont. In the debates, Jessie has demonstrated her knowledge of the varied aspects of the issues and how they present opportunities for the Town of Belmont.

Selectmen do not make decisions in a vacuum. They have the assistance of professional employees who make the town work on a daily basis and also advise the selectmen on issues of finance. They provide information and background materials that lead to good decision making. A selectman is not just an individual, she is also part of the team.

Jessie Bennett is one of us. She knows how the ordinary people rely on the schools, the recreation activities, the Council on Aging, the work of the Department of Public works, and the Board of Health.  Her decision making will not only be financially sound but it will also be informed by broad input. Let’s put a smart hardworking woman on the Board.

Fred and Anne Paulsen

School Street

Letter to the Editor: Enthusiastic Support Of Amy Checkoway For School Committee

Photo: Amy Checkoway’s campaign poster

To the editor:

I am writing in enthusiastic support of Amy Checkoway for School Committee member.

Amy is an outstanding choice for a School Committee member. She is an intelligent, devoted candidate who will do an exceptional job helping the School Committee navigate the challenging road ahead — building a new school and the reorganization that will follow. Amy is an excellent communicator and she is a consummate professional. I can think of no one else better suited for this role than Amy.

I have known Amy for more than five years as we served together on the Wellington PTO Student Care Board together from 2014 through 2018. I had an opportunity to see Amy and her tireless efforts for the benefit of the Wellington community. Now she is ready to dedicate her time to ensure that the Belmont Public Schools are the best they can be for our kids, the educational professionals, and the community.

Working with Amy has taught me a number of things about her. First, Amy is very bright and is able to appreciate complex situations at multiple levels; she understands the finer details but is able to keep the larger goal in mind. Second, Amy is a highly effective communicator and she understands the importance of clear, open dialog with the community. Further, she has experience as an education professional and therefore knows how to communicate with others in the education field. Third, she is about as organized and dependable as one can be. Amy is the type of person that you know will get the job done, and get it done well. Finally, Amy is extremely ethical, professional, and dedicated to any endeavor she undertakes.

While Amy is just about one of the nicest people you will meet, that doesn’t mean she won’t stand up to do what she believes is right for our schools, our children, and our community. I completely trust that Amy will always do the right thing for Belmont Schools.

Please join me in voting for Amy Checkoway for School Committee member on April 2.

Brooke Bevis

Cedar Road

Letter To The Editor: A Better Diehl For Massachusetts

Photo: Geoff Diehl on the campaign trail.
To the editor:
Our community is a special place. We deserve a senator who cares. I have been disappointed over the past 6 years with Senator Elizabeth Warren. Putting politics aside, she really hasn’t done her job. She has written books and gone on all the shows, but she has not put in the time for Massachusetts.
The office of senator should be to represent us. Warren has ignored us.
That’s why I am voting for Geoff Diehl for U.S. Senate. He led the successful fight to repeal automatic gas tax increases. He has saved drivers a ton of money. Warren has done nothing for us.
Geoff is committed to serving the full six-year term. He wants to be our Senator. I am going with the better Diehl.
Matt Sullivan   
Hammond Road